Mark Freeman, who coached Taulia Tagovailoa at Thompson High School (Ala.), and former Alabama quarterback Tyler Watts, now an analyst for the Crimson Tide Sports Network, both suggest that Tagovailoa may have transferred to Maryland in order to chart his own path.
Tagovailoa hails from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, but his family moved to Alabama when his brother, Tua, enrolled at Alabama. Taulia played at Thompson, a little more than an hour drive from the University of Alabama, in 2017 and 2018. Rated the No. 5 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports’ composite ratings in the Class of 2019, Taulia committed to Alabama in April 2018 and played sparingly for the Crimson Tide last fall.
Tua, who threw for 7,442 yards and 87 touchdowns on 69.3 percent passing for Alabama from 2017-2019, was taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. Taulia entered the transfer portal May 8. Given that the tight-knit Tagovailoa family is relocating to the Miami area, speculation surfaced that Taulia would transfer to a school in Florida.
But Taulia decided on the Terps, who are coached by the same man who recruited him to Alabama: Michael Locksley. Freeman believes the move gives Taulia a chance to break out of his brother’s shadow a bit.
“He’s got all those qualities but what stands out about Taulia is his fierce competitiveness,” Freeman said on Glenn Clark Radio May 19. “I think he did feel like, ‘It’s time for me to go and have my own platform. Let me go do my thing.’ And I don’t mean a platform where he stands on top and beats his chest, but where … he’s just Taulia. He’s there to work, and the credit that he will get will come because of who he is and not because it’s expected of him because he’s Tua’s little brother.”
That said, he did have a chance to continue his brother’s legacy at Alabama, but he may have been the odd man out in the quarterback competition with rising junior Mac Jones and top recruit Bryce Young also set to vie for the starting job. And without spring ball, Taulia didn’t get a chance to compete against Jones, who filled in for an injured Tua in 2019.
Taulia might have to sit a year due to transfer rules, but the Terps’ quarterback job could be his to lose in 2021 and beyond.
“I don’t think anyone around here – and I know no former player – is going to fault a kid for trying to make the right decision and do what’s best for him to prolong his career and allow him to continue to grow,” Watts said on GCR May 18. “I don’t think it’s a competitive nature that really forced him to make that decision to leave – might’ve had a little bit to do with it. Because he missed spring training, he never got that opportunity to compete. I don’t think he was scared. Maybe he just wanted to be his own person.”
Tagovailoa completed 9 of 12 passes for 100 yards at Alabama in 2019 after throwing for 3,728 and 35 touchdowns as a senior at Thompson. Watts, who called several of Tagovailoa’s games at Thompson, and Freeman believe the 5-foot-11, 208-pound quarterback has several qualities that should allow him to succeed at the position at the high-major level, including …
- Quick release. “It’s amazing to me that family, how quickly they can get rid of the football,” Watts said. “That’s what I always loved about watching Dan Marino and some of those other guys. The ability of [defenders] to close in on space and things of that nature and pick off a pass really [comes] down to how quickly a quarterback can get rid of the ball because everyone knows it’s coming, but man, it’s just in and out of their hand so quick and they get it to where it needs to be in that space.”
- Arm strength. “He can stand on the high school hashes – obviously the college hashes are closer – and throw that anywhere from 11- to 14-yard hole shot all the way across the field, across the hash to the little soft area in, say, a cover 2,” Freeman said. “He can make that throw. He throws the post route just fantastic. Those post routes, he can throw all different levels of footballs in there. He can throw a flat dart, he can throw the ball with some air under it, corner routes. He’s a blessing.”
- Confidence. “He’s not scared to make the throws,” Watts said. “He’s very aggressive out on the field. He’s a little different than his brother. He’s a little more of a runner. He uses his legs a good bit, but he is not scared to put the ball in the air in some tight areas that you kind of scratch your head and go, ‘That might not have been a good decision,’ but he tends to make it work. That confidence kind of separates the good from the great quarterbacks.”
- Athleticism. “He was so accurate, there wasn’t a whole lot of things in the offseason to develop on his throwing, his accuracy. He was very, very accurate,” Freeman said. “So the thing that we did with Taulia is he attacked the offseason just like he was a receiver – all the footwork drills, all the bags, all the things that the receivers do as far as quick hips, turning their hips, coming out of breaks. Taulia did it with them every day.”
Maryland attracted Tagovailoa in no small part due to Locksley, who was on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama from 2016-2018 and coordinated a highly productive offense with Tua under center in 2018. One of Locksley’s biggest tasks as the head coach at Maryland is figuring out the quarterback position, which has proven to be a trouble spot for the Terps, particularly in recent years.
Maryland has had five quarterbacks take snaps in the last two years (Tyler DeSue, Kasim Hill, Josh Jackson, Lance LeGendre and Tyrrell Pigrome). The last quarterback to start back-to-back season openers for Maryland is C.J. Brown (2013 and 2014). The last quarterback to start every game of a season is Sam Hollenbach (2006). Scott Milanovich’s single-season program passing records (3,499 yards, 26 touchdowns) set in 1993 still hold.
Despite Maryland’s recent history at the position, Tagovailoa and his family made the decision to commit to Locksley without taking a trip to College Park, Md. (Visits are still off-limits due to coronavirus restrictions.)
“I think they do their due diligence in making the right decision or what they feel is best for their family in order to grow, and there’s definitely a comfort level there,” Watts said. “They have to be able to check that box. That’s a good staff that y’all have up there – some good guys that know football and know how to get the most out of their players. I think that that family just feels that this is a good opportunity for him to continue to grow as a quarterback.”
The Terps went 3-9 in 2019 and have not had a winning season since 2014. Freeman says the opportunity to turn Maryland around will energize Tagovailoa and that he will help build a culture of accountability within the program. Freeman referred to “The Last Dance,” during which Michael Jordan explains that leadership comes with a price.
“Well, that’s Taulia, and he knew being a leader in high school sometimes, everybody in locker room wasn’t going to be pleasantly surprised or happy with him,” Freeman said. “I’m saying that to say this: If for some reason he feels there is a difference or an area he could strengthen, he will try to self-strengthen that area, and I feel it’ll motivate him to be more sensitive to that area. Let’s say his receivers. He’s liable to get to a receiver and say, ‘Hey, let’s go throw at 6 o’clock in the morning,’ or, ‘Let’s go work.’”
For more from Watts, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Freeman, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Alabama Athletics Photography